Some of Hollywood’s finest actresses have played first ladies in film and television. One of the loudest Oscar buzzes of 2016 is for Natalie Portman as Jackie Onassis in Jackie. Critics across the board have lauded the Academy Award winning actress’s depiction of the iconic first lady in the days following husband John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Portman is not the first actress to receive critical praise for her performance as a first lady. Here are 13 of the best performances in television and film by an actress playing a real-life first lady.
Many of the movies and shows on this list feature the first lady as a secondary character to her president husband. However, some of the items are straight up first lady biopics. Jackie, The Betty Ford Story, and The Magnificent Doll all focus on the FLOTUS and her dramatic arc. Portrayals of historical characters in movies and TV are all over the map, but these women knocked it out of the park.
American audiences have always been fascinated by historical characters in movies and television. Legends like Patty Duke and Sally Field are just a few of the renowned actresses who have portrayed America’s most iconic first ladies. If your favorite actresses to play a first lady is missing, let the world know in the comments section below.
Film: Lincoln (2012)
Sally Field earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln. The two-time Academy Award winner was initially turned down to play the capricious first lady after Daniel Day-Lewis was cast as America's 16th president. In real life, Lincoln was ten years older than his wife, whereas Field is 11 years older than Day-Lewis.
However, Day-Lewis saw past the age difference. The method actor requested to improv with Field, who was more than willing to fight for the role. Field called their improv work together a "magical reality." She got the part.
"To this day, neither one of us remembers what we did or said. But as a human and an actor, what it felt for the two of us to be together, doing these two people, was magic. And that was the beginning of the relationship that you see in the movie," Field stated.
Film: Jackie (2016)
No female film performance has created more buzz in 2016 than Natalie Portman's portrayal of Jackie Kennedy in Jackie, a story about the heartbreaking days following her husband's assassination. The 35-year-old actress has wowed critics and audiences with her mastery of the former first lady's accent, raspy voice, and demeanor.
HBO Mini-Series: John Adams (2008)
Laura Linney took home the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Miniseries or a Motion Picture Made for Television in 2008 for her performance as America's second first lady, Abigail Adams. The seven-episode period drama about America's most forgotten president, John Adams (Paul Giamatti), features Linney as the forward-thinking, feminist Adams from her late 20s until her death at 74.
TV Movie: The Betty Ford Story (1987)
Most of the actresses on this list play a supporting character to the president husband. The Betty Ford Story breaks this mold by focusing on Betty, not Gerald, Ford. The story depicts her prominent role as FLOTUS, her battle with breast cancer, her secret abuse of prescription medicine and alcohol, and the founding of the Betty Ford Center (an addiction treatment center). Rowland won a Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe for her powerhouse performance.